- Birth, Name and Family
- Upbringing, Education and Training
- His Work
The Servant of God Devasahayam Pillai was born in the year 17121 in the hamlet called Nattalam of Vilavancode Taluk in the present district of Kanyakumari. His father was Vasudevan Namputhiri, a Brahmin, and his mother Devaki Amma of the Nair Caste. His name was Nilam2, also expanded as Nilakandan3, both being two forms of the same name of the Hindu God Siva. Because of the tradition of marumakkalthayam, which followed a matrilineal tradition of inheritance, the children were identified by the caste of the mother. Therefore, Nilam was also considered to be of the Nair caste, which was considered a high caste, next only to the topmost Brahmin caste. The Nair caste was a belligerent tribe and most of the soldiers of the king of Travancore came from that caste. To this caste belonged almost all nobles and the king himself and the king’s family. When Nilam grew up in to an adult and had a position in the royal court of the king, people appended the appellation “Pillai” to his name. “Pillai was a suffix added to the names of those born in a high caste and who also rise to a high position in the society4. That is how Nilam was also known as Nilam Pillai or Nilakandan Pillai. The family of Nilam was very much rooted in Hindu faith and his father was serving as priest in the Siva temple at Nattalam.
As a youth of the Nair caste Nilakandan was trained in the art of warfare, together with the study of the languages Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit. As a Nair by birth, he spoke Malayalam at home. But he was living in a region where Tamil was the spoken language of the majority. Besides the languages, Nilakandan was like all the Nair youth of his days, probably taught archery, varmasastra (the South Indian martial art based on the science of human physique) and the use of weapons of war.5 It is possible that during his Education, which was mostly private, in some way he came in contact with the Catholic faith.6
Nilakandan Pillai started his career as a soldier7 and he did very well in that profession and excelled his fellow soldiers in maturity of judgment and firmness of mind8. This being his first profession, later on he was also an official in the Nilakandaswamy temple at Padmanabhapuram.9 Thirdly he was a palace official, working in the king’s treasury. This job later brought him to Udayagiri fort as in one charge of accounts while the modernization of the fort was in progress under the efficient leadership of Eustache de Lannoy between the years 1941 and 1945. Nilakandan Pillai was the paymaster to the construction labourers of the fort.